LONGMONT, Colo. — A 19-year-old Longmont man won first place in the Open IFPA World Championship in Riverside, California on Jan. 15.
Escher Lefkoff has been fascinated with pinball before he could even walk.
"I started playing pinball when I was about 3 years old. Before then, I kind of just watched the ball roll around while my dad played, just drooled on the glass," Lefkoff said.
He explained in his early days he would stand on a stool or chair to be able to play on the tall pinball machines.
Since then, he's become a lot taller and a lot better. He won his first World Pinball Championship when he was 13 years old, and these days his trophy shelves are just about full of first-place wins. The latest addition to his collection came from the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA)'s Open World Championship.
Lefkoff had to play his final round on a machine that had lost him tournaments in the past: Flash Gordon.
"I've always struggled on that game," he said. "I told my dad right before, 'Whatever happens, happens. I'm going to do my best, but you know, it's Flash Gordon.'"
He said his strategy was to make sure to get the extra ball, which allows him to collect even more points.
"Instead of playing bonus on the game, I swapped to lightning and hitting my spinner with a playfield multiplier," he explained.
When the last ball drained, all the bonus points started adding up.
"All I could do was stand there and watch as the score slowly ticked up. I stood there with my fists out like, come on! Please, please!" Lefkoff remembers.
He would snatch the first-place spot by around 6,000 points, a very close margin.
As players will tell you, there's no luck in pinball. Everything is earned, including Lefkoff's new title: Open World Champion. After all the victories over the years, being a champion still has a ring to it for him.
"It's still wonderful to win. There are so many good players now. There's so much competition that every single first place you have to truly earn," Lefkoff said.
He's hoping pinball can attract new fans and competitors in the future. Right now, tournaments are put on by pinball players themselves.
"These world championships are run either mostly by the IFPA and people like Karl DeAngelo, who put in hours and hours and hours. They supply their own games and put all this effort into it. They don't make any money. They do it for the love of pinball and seeing people that are devoted to something and willing to put themselves out there and make something," Lefkoff said.
He's hoping pinball can pivot more into the digital age by using platforms like Twitch and other social media apps to increase exposure to the game.
"Colorado is a great place to go out find a game you like and play it a lot. And if you like pinball, then you should join a league playing the monthly tournaments," he said.